Monday, January 07, 2008

Diary: The Mysteries of Chicago, Part 1



I've started rereading Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, one of my favorite novels of all time, in preparation for the inception of the Gothic Funk Nation this February. The timing of all of these events, however, is uncanny, since in some ways the "plot arc" of December 2007 for me had a lot in common with the early English gothic novel in general, and The Mysteries of Udolpho specifically.

As such, when I'm trying to make excuses for the fact that I went AWOL here for the last fifty-or-so days, I might as well attempt to tell the story in the gothic style towards which it is most intrasigently propelled. I sit here now, on an uncharacteristically warm night in January in Chicago – a steamy and cloudy night with thunder and lightning, and perhaps later even hail and tornadoes – and I think back a little over a month, when everything was different...




I did post here less often in the weeks leading up to the move. It had been a very mild autumn in New York; it hadn't snowed at all by Thanksgiving, the leaves were changing in fits and starts through November, and by the last week many were still green and clinging to their branches. I went to the Met and the Frick Collection for the last time. I ate at Kinara's and El Paisano. I read from my novels at the Guerrilla Lit reading, and Marco and Scott put together a going away party for Jess and myself. It was the sunniest I'd ever felt about New York, but of course, we'd been gearing up to move back to Chicago for months at that point.

As the date approached, however, a few things began to come unravel. For the most part, it was nothing worth worrying about: moving is never simple, and of course the actual packing took much longer than I'd anticipated. The logistics of the move were in flux until the last minute, and most disconcertingly, three months of searching had not procured me a job at all. Friends were on the lookout, but nothing had really materialized.

The one saving grace was the apartment: I had found a place through a for-the-moment-unnamed rental agency, and they had taken Skylar around to several places. He recommended one: a large house in the East Village renting for $800. It had a basement and an attic, though I wasn't to have access to these parts of the house. A retired Polish policeman lived in a small apartment at the back; the house had been his family's and his ex-wife was the landlord. More, he believed that the second floor, which his parents had inhabited, was haunted. Skylar told me about this and showed me a number of pictures: a wrought-iron fence; tiny closet-like bedrooms and massive, looming arches connecting the dining and living room. Although the heating would be expensive in the winter, the house was too good a deal to pass up. The rental agency had faxed me the paperwork and I had mailed them my signatures and $1600 in rent and security deposit. I was happy to have had, at least, this one important issue resolved.

On the night, Friday, that the move finally was to take place, I picked up the Budget truck, and Jess helped me pack all day and then left for class. About the time Jess left, Scott arrived and helped me pack, and then Marco showed up at around eight. He had taken two weeks off work to help me with the move, and then to finish his novel. We'd planned on leaving at eight, but with expected and unexpected delays, we didn't really get on the road until midnight. I got a parking citation for leaving the truck parked and unattended in front of my apartment before heading out. We drove down Flatbush and crossed the Manhattan bridge. We took the West Side Highway. A strobe went off in my face for pushing through a red light. The night was not off to a good start.

We crossed the Washington Bridge and made it out of New Jersey after two. The weather was mostly fine, though a bit windy, and the only unnerving thing about this phase of the trip were the massive and sometimes spasming semis barrelling down along both lanes. It took over four hours to cross Pennsylvania on I-80, and both Marco and I were tired as we crossed into Ohio and the sun came up. We stopped at a rest area and I shut my eyes for fifteen minutes. Then, we continued on. We crossed the Cuyahoga River and the sun shot out from behind the clouds. We passed a horrific accident in which a passanger was impaled through the head by the corner of a shouldered semi truck. We drove through a couple hours of countryside and finally through Toledo; the first city of any size we'd approached since we'd actually left New York. On their northern spurs, both Ohio and Pennsylvania are quite desolate and intimidating. We stopped for a moment in Luna Pier so that I could update my parents on my progress and look out over Lake Erie. Then we jogged agross the crumbling and potholed roads to I-23, and drove the rest of the way up to Flint and Flushing. It was after noon when we finally arrived.

The next 24-hours were a fair respite. It was my mom's birthday, and after Marco and I had taken a four-hour nap, I took her out to Red Lobster for dinner, and my dad treated Marco, my sister, and myself. We got a decent sleep that night, and I dashed off to church for the Sunday opening of Advent at St. John Vianney in Flint. We had a lunch and got on the road again.

The last stretch of the drive was much shorter, but more harrowing. It was freezing rain, and occasionally whiteout snow, for the entirety of the two hundred miles between Lansing and Gary, and the trip must have taken at least an extra hour or two. There was black ice under the overpasses, and while the semi drivers seemed now to understand the laws of physics, many others were driving too far out. The snow finally subsided for good as we left Hammond and entered Chicago. We took the Skyway, and on the huge bridge at city limits we couldn't even see the skyline because the air was too thick and wet. We cruised fast along the Dan Ryan, but the Robert Taylor Homes had all been torn down, and it looked like the countryside for awhile. We passed over and through and alongside and under the Loop and exited onto Augusta. I followed Augusta and Milwaukee to the rental agency, where the landlord had assured me I could pick up the keys, checking on the time and date.

It was locked, however, and all of the lights were out.

Twilight was falling on Chicago, and there was no way to get into my new apartment.

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